[HOMETOWN R&B] Arjay lives, like many urban singers of his generation, at the intersection of hip-hop and R&B. If you know his name, it’s probably from the former: The Portland staple has been featured on songs from the list of usual suspects from Cool Nutz and Bosko to Oakland’s E-40, and he’s been known to steal the spotlight on those tracks.
Crafting a cohesive R&B album is a tougher prospect than shining on the odd guest spot, of course, which is probably why Arjay has taken over a decade in releasing his debut. I don’t envy the task: Not only does Portland boast little infrastructure for R&B, but the production trends in mainstream urban radio change almost daily.
Arjay’s debut, Love Strong, doesn’t attempt to ride on the tailwinds of mainstream R&B so much as it throws a little of everything in the listener/radio programmer’s direction to see what sticks. It feels a little like a musical demo reel or an especially broad-minded mixtape: Some of the album’s songs—like the title track, “Drift Away” and “Lover”—choose organic, Maxwell-esque instrumentation over the genre’s current obsessions while “Patiently Waiting” and “Life of the Party” sound like products of their era, replete with their respective Jeezy-isms and air horns.
While a number of Arjay’s rapper friends—from young guns Mikey Vegaz and Fli Boi Moe to old-Portland MCs Cool Nutz and Kenny Mack—stop by to keep the disc hood-appropriate, Arjay actually sounds most at home when solo and balancing the current R&B futurism with his own tendency toward tangible melody. “Overdrive” is a legit banger that nudges dubstep but keeps the focus on the singer’s vocal prowess while remaining Auto-Tune free; “So Sexy” has an early-MJ heart and an R. Kelly soul, but Arjay’s sugary/straightforward vocals remain in command.
There are a few big misses here as well, but that’s sorta par for the course on a 15-track R&B album. Love Strong remains an impressive, radio-ready showing from a singer whose patience—and hustle—has finally paid off.
SEE IT: Arjay plays Someday Lounge on Saturday, May 26, with Cool Nutz, KP, Stevo Triple SB and DJ Danny Merkury. 8 pm. $10. 21+.